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Alexander Craghead

There are of course political reasons why MAX and Streetcar are not one system. For one, streetcar is, as you point out, development driven -- or at least it as at the start. MAX is about moving mass quantities of people in a traditional Federal definition of mass transit. In fact early on TriMet officials such as Walsh were anti-streetcar as they saw it as competition for transit funding as well as being highly foreign to then current notions about what transit was and what it did.

Long term, however, as streetcar lines transition away from development driven and towards more of a transportation role, there is some logic to merging them with MAX under a TriMet umbrella. Metro, in the most recent RTP, suggested using streetcars as "branches" of MAX at further out points, such as Lombard in NoPo, either purely as a single track MAX extension or as a line that sees both local circulating streetcars and commuter/metropolitan service via MAX on the same tracks.

These, however, are merely concepts in a larger transportation plan; will they ever become reality? I suspect yes, eventually:once a streetcar is built, the developers get what they want, and have less incentive to fund and operate them. (This is not a new story: it's exactly what became of the first wave of streetcars, which were also all about real estate ventures.) At that point, it makes more sense for them to transition into being part of an integrated transit system, rather than maintaining a separate identity. But in my view this may be a decade or more out, and depends on if additional extensions ever become reality, or if Sam's Streetcar System Plan becomes just a footnote in history.

R A Fontes

The Lake Oswego streetcar extension is not a done deal. Three years ago, all seven Lake Oswego City Council members were project supporters; now there are just four. Opponents have high hopes in winning a majority in the November 2012 election. The main issues for Lake Oswegans concern local costs and difficulty of integrating the proposed high density development, particularly regarding traffic.

There are real concerns all along Highway 43 about the degradation of transit service that streetcar would bring. It would be slower, less convenient, and more costly to operate than bus, and some riders between Lake Oswego and Portland would lose service entirely.

Clackamas County is a member of the intergovernmental consortium which owns the right-of-way. In its draft resolution supporting the project and on behalf of concerns raised by West Linn, the County requires that corridor bus service be maintained and expanded. The reality that we need bus service if we want decent corridor transit, whether or not we have streetcar, belies a fundamental project claim.

Foothills development proponents are also backing away - at least to a degree - from the claim that streetcar is a necessity for its project. The party line is now that while streetcar would be more attractive to developers, viable development would still be possible without it, but possibly at a smaller scale.

Jim Heuer

The original electric streetcars which helped shape the Portland metro area actually served until a more recent date than you suggest in your post. The first Portland electric lines opened in 1889, just a year after the very first U.S. electric trolleys went into service in Richmond, Virginia (Although the first successful European systems had started a few years earlier). When Portland began switching from horse, steam, and cable power in its public transport, there was already a fairly extensive system -- which was quickly replaced by the much more cost effective and practical electric cars. Portland's network of streetcars and electric interurban services became one of the most extensive in the nation by the 1920s.

The last electric streetcars in that old system were discontinued in 1950: the last lines were the Willamette Heights, Council Crest, and 23rd Avenue cars. Contrary to popular assumptions that the riding public preferred modern buses, there was actually a strong protest movement attempting to force the transit company, to retain the electric cars. Then, as now, people preferred the more comfortable ride and predictable routing of the electric cars.

In the end, the daunting costs of replacing 60-year old electric distribution infrastructure, plus the economic incentives offered by the bus-building division of General Motors, induced the transit operators to switch to diesel buses -- and thereby accelerate the decline in ridership resulting from increasing automobile use. As with the streetcars, the longer haul interurban electric cars suffered from government neglect, declining ridership, and aging equipment, and they stopped operating in 1958.

So the preference of the riding public for electric streetcars versus buses is nothing new. Also not new is the greater flexibility of the diesel bus in the face of traffic congestion and street disruptions, in comparison with the rigid routing of the electric cars.

It is true that electric streetcars were promoted heavily by real estate developers in the last years of the 19th and early 20th Centuries, suggesting a parallel with today's development driven streetcar construction in Portland. Still, 2011 is not 1911, and it is not at all clear that the tremendous construction along the current streetcar route would not have happened at all in the absence of the streetcar line. We will soon see the effect of modern streetcar development on a neighborhood more distant from downtown and hardly on the cusp of a major building boom as the MLK/Grand Avenue line goes into service next year.

As one who generally favors more light rail and trolley transit where it makes economic sense, I find it hard to swallow the decision to press south to Lake Oswego with streetcar service. For all the reasons cited by the previous commenter, this route is highly problematic both in terms of distance, right of way, and projected operating speed. If a light-rail route could be constructed to Lake O., with its much higher operating speeds, the needs of commuters might be much better served -- but likely at a cost the community would never be willing to fund.

Much more practical would be streetcar routes extending into Northeast and Southeast Portland along routes already supporting heavy bus traffic, which have long established "streetcar suburb" layouts resulting from those streetcar routes of 50 years ago.

Doug Kelso

I'm very skeptical about the current proposal for the Lake Oswego Streetcar simply because it's too expensive and too slow. A streetcar could provide MAX-like service between downtown and Lake Oswego, but it would (probably) need to share MAX tracks from South Waterfront to downtown (which would require adaptations to either the vehicles or the MAX platforms -- Streetcars are narrower than MAX vehicles, and the gap would be wide enough to be unsafe) and run with only a few stations from South Waterfront to Lake Oswego.

As Brian points out, the streetcar is well-used as a development tool -- basically it's a pedestrian enhancement to get around the core two or three times as fast as walking. It could instead be used for commuter transit like MAX. But it can't (realistically) do both. The planned Lake Oswego line is designed like a development tool, which makes for very poor commuter transit. Developing it as an effective transit line would mean (most likely) making it a Tri-Met project and using a different vehicle than the current Portland Streetcar -- one that can share MAX tracks and platforms downtown, and still use Portland Streetcar tracks and platforms in South Waterfront.

Adding injury to insult, the Lake Oswego streetcar proposal would eliminate bus service on Macadam to pay for operations -- creating a longer, slower ride for commuters in that corridor. As planned, it's a very expensive lose-lose for almost everyone except a few developers in Johns Landing and Lake Oswego.

Jim Heuer

Relative to the comment that the current streetcar is a pedestrian enhancement to "get around the core two or three times as fast as walking"...

Alas, with the relative low frequencies of the current streetcar operations, my Pearl-dwelling friends report that for trips into downtown or even to PSU, it is faster to walk unless there is a streetcar within sight of the stop.

Every-5-minute frequencies may not be economically feasible today, but that kind of scheduling was what made the electric streetcar an essential part of early 20th Century urban transportation in the central core even in the early days of the automobile. The every-15-minute scheduling used today was used in historic times too, but only for streetcar transport from what were then outlying suburban areas like Mt. Tabor.

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